Little 500 Winning Car Owner Gene Nolen Passes Away

Gene Nolen, 1943-2020

WHITELAND, Ind., April 8 — Legendary USAC Silver Crown and sprint car owner H. Eugene (Gene) Nolen, owner of Nolen Racing, passed away this afternoon, Wednesday, April 8. 

Nolen, 77, of Greenwood, Ind., had been fighting kidney failure and pulmonary fibrosis for about a year, and recently developed pneumonia. He had tested negative for COVID-19. He died at Kindred Long-Term Hospital in Indianapolis, where he was admitted about three weeks ago. 

His son, Greg, said that in accordance to his father’s wishes the team will continue to field cars for Kody Swanson, the winningest driver in USAC Silver Crown history and the reigning USAC Silver Crown champion, once racing resumes after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. The plan is to field a car in the USAC Silver Crown series for Swanson and two sprint cars at the Little 500 at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway for Swanson and Shane Hollingsworth to be run in Nolen’s memory.

Nolen’s bright yellow Nolen Racing No. 20s are legendary in short-track open-wheel racing.

Known for being one of the most honest, caring gentlemen in the sport, Nolen was a top USAC Silver Crown team owner for nearly 40 years with 16 victories, including three Hoosier Hundreds at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. His team won half of the USAC Silver Crown races held last year. It finished in the top five in the entrant championship in each of the last five years, including second twice (with Jerry Coons Jr. in 2017 and Swanson in 2019). Almost all of the team members are volunteers, and many of them have been part of the team for over 20 years. 

His drivers included top names in open-wheel racing such as Swanson, Hollingsworth, Coons, Tony Elliott, Johnny Parsons, Jim Keeker, Ron Gregory, Chris Windom, Joe Axsom, Bob Frey, Dakota Jackson, Hunter Schuerenberg, Billy Puterbaugh Jr., Bryan Clauson, Rocky Hodges, Steve Barnett, Rick Hood, Levi Jones, Lance Kobusch, Chris Phillips, Larry Rice, Tony Stewart, Tanner Swanson, Brian Tyler, Brian Gerster, Rex Norris III and Brent Beauchamp. He also assisted with the careers of rising stars of the sport such as Kameron Gladish and Emerson Axsom.

His first race car was a midget he purchased in 1980.

Nolen had a passion for engineering, and that passion fueled his participation in motorsports. Along with his close friend, the late Glen Niebel, he helped popularize the use of the Chevrolet V-6 engine in short-track open-wheel racing.

He was a founding partner of Manar, Inc. of Edinburgh, Ind., which is a high-quality custom plastics manufacturer serving customers in many dynamic industries. He was Manar Inc.’s chairman and chief executive officer at the time of his death. He oversaw the company becoming an employee-owned business in 2017. 

He was a past recipient of USAC’s Robbie Stanley Award. In January he also received the Emma and Joie Ray Award for Courage at the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans (HARF) banquet. 

He was a 2010 inductee into the Little 500 Hall of Fame. He was the winning car owner of that race, the premier asphalt sprint car race in the world, at Anderson Speedway for the last two years. In fact, his asphalt sprint cars driven by Swanson and Hollingsworth led all but one of the 500 laps of the Little 500 last year, with Swanson winning and Hollingsworth placing fourth.

“Gene was a friend to so many of us, and a serious competitor,” Swanson said. “He was more than a car owner; he was someone that you raced with and you became family. I know that he was proud of his team, his family, and the people that he was able to race with throughout an incredible career. Gene was a great friend to me, and wonderful to my wife and children as well. I’m grateful to have had the chance to race with him, get to know him, and be part of his Nolen Racing family. He will be dearly missed.”

Nolen is survived by his son, Greg (wife Tisha), a daughter, Tammy Sue Wagner (husband Mark), and four granddaughters (Whitney McAtee, Emily Wagner, Jenna Wagner, and Amelia Rose Nolen). He was preceded in death by his wife, Rose Marie Nolen, in 2005. 

He was a 1961 graduate of Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance to the viewing and funeral on Monday at the G.H. Herrmann Funeral Home, 1605 S. State Road 135 in Greenwood, Ind. will be limited, as by the governor’s executive order only 10 people will be permitted into the chapel at a time. The family will pay their respects at 11, friends and associates at noon, and the funeral will follow at 1 p.m. However, the family plans to hold a much larger celebration of life when the pandemic is over. Details on the celebration of life will be posted on and the team’s Facebook page when they become available.